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Egypt's constitution hangs in balance as judges face off against Morsi (+video)

President Mohamed Morsi says he wants to put Egypt's new draft constitution to a referendum on Dec. 15, but the plan could be upended by the nation's judiciary.

The Associated Press reports on weekend protests in Egypt over a new constitution and a proposed Dec. 15 referendum.
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On Sunday, Egypt’s highest court suspended its work in protest over perceived pressure after Islamist demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse. Later in the day, the national judges union followed up by calling on its members not to monitor the referendum to pass the constitution into force.

The showdown between the judges and the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi is the latest wrinkle in the unfolding battle to define Egypt's new constitution, and more broadly over how power will be divided as Egypt moves forward. Mr. Morsi has scheduled a referendum for Dec. 15 on Egypt's new constitution, drafted by Islamists over the objections of Egyptian secularists and leftists.

“This is an institutional clash between ... two major powers within the state,” says Ziad Abdel Tawab, deputy director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. “This is something very abnormal, shouldn’t be happening, and no one knows what the result will be.”

The judges union's decision to boycott monitoring the referendum is not binding for members, and it is unclear how widespread the boycott will be. Government-controlled media report today that Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council has decided to monitor the vote, though there's been no independent confirmation of that as yet.

If the judicial council had sided with the judges union, preparations for the referendum would have been stalled. “This is where we can safely say it will jeopardize the integrity of the elections,” Mr. Abdel Tawab said.

At the moment, it appears planning will lurch forward, with individual judges participating or not, based on their conscience. Judicial monitoring of elections is required in Egypt, and if enough judges boycott then Egypt will not be able to hold the referendum. “That’s very unlikely to happen,” says Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings Doha Center. “I think, ultimately, there are going to be enough judges to supervise the elections.”

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